If you are like most people who first find their way to the Ski for Light website, you have heard good things from friends, family or acquaintances about SFL. You are curious, but you don’t really understand what Ski for Light is, or why so many people who have attended one of our events call it the experience of a lifetime. Can it really be all that people have said? Isn’t it just a “learn-to-ski” program?
On this page we will describe for you what the SFL organization and program is all about, and try to put into words for you what makes it so special, and so different from other adaptive programs.
After learning more, we hope that you will decide that attending the next Ski for Light event could be worth a try.
The Ski for Light, Inc. Organization
Ski for Light, Inc. is an all-volunteer not-for-profit corporation that was founded in 1975. It was created by a group of Norwegian-Americans who were familiar with a program in Norway, the Ridderrenn, and the success that program had enjoyed over the years in teaching blind/visually-impaired and mobility-impaired people the Norwegian national sport of cross-country skiing.
The two cornerstone premises, or beliefs, that led to the creation of Ski for Light were that:
- Blind/visually-impaired and mobility-impaired people can learn how to cross-country ski quite well, and have fun while doing it, if given proper instruction and equipment, and if paired with a sighted, experienced cross-country skier to act as instructor and guide.
- Experienced, sighted cross-country skiers will find it fun and rewarding to share their love of skiing by being an instructor/guide for someone who can’t easily have that experience on his/her own.
Ski for Light has thrived for all these years because of the continuing truth of these beliefs. They remain as true today as they were in 1975, and are the foundation upon which the entire program is built.
The Ski for Light International Week
The Cross-Country Skiing Parts of the Event
Each year Ski for Light, Inc. conducts a week-long cross-country skiing event at a U.S. location that varies from year to year.
The primary goal of the event is to teach blind, visually-impaired and mobility-impaired people who have never skied before the basics of the sport, and to give people who have already learned the basics a chance to improve their skill and technique, or to let them just have fun on the snow. About 25% of the skiers are first-time participants each year, while the remaining 75% are people who have attended before.
The week usually attracts 250 or more total attendees. The typical composition of the group is:
- 100 or more people who are blind or visually-impaired
- 8-10 people who are mobility-impaired
- 115 or more able-bodied sighted instructor/guides
- 15 to 50 skiers and guides from foreign countries, including a delegation from Norway
- 15 to 30 companions and volunteers who help with many of the non-skiing tasks that make the event run so smoothly
The entire group stays for the entire week, from Sunday evening of the first week to Sunday morning of the second week, at a single event hotel. All meals are group meals. The fee paid by all attendees – guides, disabled skiers, and volunteers alike – covers hotel room for all seven nights, all 20 meals, transportation to/from the nearest airport at the beginning and end of the week, transportation each day to/from the ski area, cross-country trail fees, and, for first-time visually- or mobility-impaired skiers only, the use of rental ski equipment for the week.
A prospective Visually- or mobility-impaired participant does not have to be an athlete to participate, but merely someone who is interested in enjoying a more physically active lifestyle and who feels that his/her overall health and level of fitness will allow safe participation in the program. No physical examination is required. The only expectation of new participants is that during the week they give cross-country skiing a serious try.
A prospective instructor/guide does not need any previous experience guiding visually- or mobility-impaired skiers. An intensive training program is held on Saturday evening and Sunday morning/afternoon at the start of the week where all new and second-time guides are taught the communication and guiding techniques necessary to safely guide a visually- or mobility-impaired skier. There is no extra charge for this training. Beyond attending these training sessions, the only expectation of new guides is that they be at least intermediate level classic cross-country skiers who are capable of safely managing their own speed and direction on both level ground and hills, while at the same time communicating with their skiing partner.
The skiing portion of the week starts on Monday morning and concludes the following Saturday. Each visually- or mobility-impaired skier is matched with an experienced sighted cross-country skier for the entire week. If you aren’t familiar with how visually- and mobility- impaired people cross-country ski, it is done in “tracks” (or grooves) set in the snow by trail grooming equipment. There are two sets of tracks next to each other on the trails. The visually- or mobility-impaired person skis in one set of tracks, the guide skis in the other set along side the skier. With visually-impaired skiers, the guide tells the skier about upcoming changes in the direction and level of the tracks, offers instructional tips and suggestions, and tells the skier about the countryside. Mobility-impaired participants ski in the tracks in a sit-ski, with the guide providing instructional tips and physical assistance as necessary. Emphasis is placed on recreational trail skiing, rather than competition, with the skier and guide deciding together how far, how long, and on what kind of terrain they will ski.
On the last full day, a 5-kilometer rally and 10-kilometer race is conducted in which each skier has an opportunity to test and demonstrate his or her newly-acquired skills over a measured distance. This event, complete with an Olympic-type start and finish line and national anthems, is the highlight of the week for most participants.
Most skier/guide pairs meet at breakfast each day, then travel together to the ski area. They usually ski in the morning, have lunch, then do a bit more skiing in the afternoon before returning to the hotel in mid-afternoon. The guide’s guiding responsibility ends at this point, but there is never a shortage of other attendees, visually-impaired, mobility- impaired or guides, with whom you can participate in the non-skiing late afternoon and evening portions of the week.
The Non-Skiing Parts of the Event
While skiing is the focal point of the week, it is only part of the Ski for Light experience and, in fact, the Ski for Light event is held regardless of snow conditions.
The Ski for Light week includes both late-afternoon and after-dinner organized and informal activities, a group dinner each evening, with presentations and awards toward the end of dinner on some nights.
When skiers return from the ski area each day, at anywhere from 2:30 to 4:30 pm, some choose to head for the lounge, swimming pool or hot-tub to meet old friends and make new ones while others choose to nap or just hang out in their room. Some choose to join one of the “special-interest” sessions held each afternoon. These popular sessions allow volunteer group leaders to share information about topics such as their hobby, job, language or almost any subject with others who want to know more about it. After dinner activities vary from year to year, but usually include a DJ some nights, a silent auction, a program or entertainment with some sort of local flavor, Norway Night, where members of the Norwegian Delegation entertain the group, and a banquet followed by a dance on Saturday.
Why Do So Many People Return to Ski for Light Year After Year?
Part of the answer to this question is that the two cornerstone beliefs upon which SFL was created remain powerful and true year after year:
- Visually- and mobility impaired people really can learn to ski quite competently and have a lot of fun while doing it, and;
- Sighted, experienced cross-country skiers really do leave SFL feeling as if they have received more back than they have given during the week.
The rest of the answer is that the total Ski for Light experience is much more than just learning how to ski. It is much more than just the combination of both skiing and non-skiing activities and a busy schedule. It is, in fact, how people who have attended usually feel about themselves and about others at the end of the week. This is the end result of several things that are not immediately obvious unless you have attended a Ski for Light event:
- Visually- and mobility-impaired individuals usually discover, in the process of learning how to ski, that they can accomplish much more, both on and off the snow, than others have told them was possible for a person with disabilities. They often develop a new sense of self-confidence and motivation and take this back home to tackle the problems of everyday life with new energy and drive.
- Mobility-impaired participants usually discover that the dangers of ice, snow and outdoor activity for wheelchair users that they have been warned about for years are not always true. In addition, they discover the benefits of increased aerobic activity and a more physically active lifestyle, which carries over to their life at home.
- Guides usually discover how personally rewarding and gratifying it is to give of their time and ability when it allows another person to achieve goals that might not be achievable without their involvement. This often carries over to new activities, interests and personal goals in everyday life back home.
One last but very powerful factor behind why so many people return year after year is the organizational culture that has evolved at SFL over the years. While it may sound a bit trite, it is quite true that Ski for Light is one of the very few places where a disabled person does not have to think much about being disabled. No one much notices, or cares. People are treated as individuals, not disabled individuals. There is always a friendly face or voice if you want a friend or need assistance, but no one will make false assumptions about your abilities.
How You Can Get Involved
If you are interested in learning more about SFL, and in possibly attending our next event,please do the following.
- The details for the next event are posted to this website during July or August, for the event to be held early the following year. Here are the details of our next event. Please read this information carefully.
- After reading about the next event, if you would like to attend you must submit an event application. The application asks for your contact and personal information, your desired meal and housing options for the week, and about your skiing ability and experience.
- Ski for light will review the information in your application and make a decision about whether or not you can be accepted to attend the event. Important considerations in this evaluation are your skiing ability and experience if applying to be a guide, and the number of guides anticipated if applying to be a visually- or mobility-impaired participant.
- Applicants are generally notified of their acceptance to the week within one to three weeks of submitting an application.
- Applications are accepted until at least November 1 of each year, and usually a bit later. Late applicants will be accepted if guide versus skier numbers so allow, and if there is still room in the event hotel.
- No deposit is required, but all event fees must be paid by December 1.
We hope that what you have read above sounds interesting to you, and if so we look forward to meeting you at our next event.